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Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910)

Portrait of Julia Ward Howe, ca. 1898. From the Julia Ward Howe Papers, 1857-1961. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute.

Julia Ward Howe, a writer, lecturer, and women's rights activist, was born in 1819 in New York City to Samuel Ward, Jr., a wealthy Wall Street stockbroker, and Julia Rush, a poet. Julia was educated by tutors at home and in girls' schools until age 16. In 1843, she married Samuel Gridley Howe, director of the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. Her husband disapproved of women's work outside the home, so Howe spent her early married life in the domestic sphere, raising six children, reading and writing, and publishing poetry anonymously. Her writing during this period, such as her play, Leonora, or the World's Own, produced in New York in 1856, hints at frustration in her confinement from public reform work. Howe also published travel accounts throughout her life, beginning with her 1860 A Trip to Cuba.

In 1861, Howe traveled to Washington, DC with her husband, who was dispensing supplies to Union soldiers. Upon the suggestion of her friend, Rev. James Freeman Clarke, Howe re-wrote lyrics to the tune of a popular army song, "John Brown's Body," resulting in the famous "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The song was widely popularized through publication in the Atlantic Monthly in February, 1862, and became emblematic of the North's struggle against slavery in the Civil War.

The fame that resulted from "The Battle Hymn" increased Howe's access to public life, and she became active in movements for women's rights, increasingly so after her husband's death in 1876. She helped found the New England Woman Suffrage Association in 1868, and she served as president of the Massachusetts and New England associations in the 1870s and 1890s. In the late 1870s, Howe conducted speaking tours in the Midwest, Europe, and the Middle East, calling for a peace movement in response to the Franco-Prussian War and convening a Woman's Peace Conference in London. Howe's leadership in the women's club movement extended to both local and national organizations, and she founded the New England Women's Club in 1868 and served as president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs (1890) and the Association for the Advancement of Women (founded 1873).

In 1908, Howe became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She died of pneumonia in 1910 at age 91.

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